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Families punished, says Irwin.

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Families Punished, Says Irwin 7th October 2005

Federal Member for Fowler, Julia Irwin, says families in the Fairfield-Liverpool electorate owe a staggering $1.5 million to the government in family payment debts.

“These overpayments are the result of a flawed family assistance system the Howard government has known about for the last four years,” Mrs Irwin said.

She said that 300 families in the electorate had had the shock of finding their tax return refunds intercepted to pay the debt, according to figures obtained through a Senate estimates committee.

“They were figures for the last tax year and we can expect the same for other unsuspecting families this year.

“It’s frankly a fiasco when you consider the family payment is supposed to be smoothing out the cost of raising kids.

“To be hit with a bill or to have the money clawed back from your tax refund puts a lot of families into a financial tail-spin.

“This is punishing families through no fault of their own when the ball should be in the government’s court to fix the system.”

Mrs Irwin said the total debt level of $1,507,816 for the Fowler electorate was the second highest across all Australian electorates.

“Paying the debt is less likely to be a question of not wanting to pay but rather not being able to pay. Petrol prices and the spiralling cost of child care are already making it difficult for young families here,” she said.

Mrs Irwin said the family assistance overpayments occurred because the income test for family payments relied on annual estimates of future income which failed to accurately predict factors such as increased overtime or additional hours of casual employment.

More than 1,000 local families had been assessed as having a debt as a result of the retrospective income test.